Currently at in my Law in Society class (Law, Society, and Justice 363) at the University of Washington we are exploring the incidence of forced use in policing—focusing at the relation between the written law and the violence needed to back it up. As part of this discussion, we are in the process of reading Above the Law: Police and the Excessive Use of Force by Jerome Skolnick and James Fyfe.
They argue that “excessive force cases that reach the courts show that the questionable conduct  has happened because superiors are so indifferent to the misconduct as to be grossly negligent in the performance of their duties” and that “a recent case in Mason County, Washington, depicts [this]” (Skolnick 36). Imagine my surprise to see our small and seemingly harmless county being depicted in such a manner!
What follows is an attempt to recreate and analyze this reprehensible incident in our history that occurred in 1985 through 1986. For the remainder of the discussion I will be drawing my facts from the appeal to the United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, 927 F.2d 1473 (Davis v. Mason County).
This is a case of both police brutality (actions intended to hurt performed with malice) and the excessive use of force by Mason County Deputies against private citizens. These four incidents occurred from June 1985 to March 1986.
- “ Early on the morning of June 29, 1985 as Doug Durbin returned home from a local tavern, Deputy Ray Sowers followed him and waited outside of Durbin’s home. Deputy Tom Furrer later arrived as backup. Sowers, flicking an electric stun gun on and off, ordered Durbin out of his house. Durbin, who complied, was arrested for drunk driving. After taking one step toward his house, the two deputies tackled Durbin and threw him to the ground. Though Durbin never attempted to resist, Sowers began to beat him on the back of his head with his fist. In the patrol car on the way to the jail Sowers slammed on the brakes, causing Durbin, who was handcuffed and thus defenseless, to smash into the screen with his face.”
- “Deputy Doug Quantz pulled over Don Taylor as he was driving through Shelton on the afternoon of July 20, 1985, allegedly for driving too fast. Quantz ordered Taylor to spread-eagle against the patrol vehicle and proceeded to conduct a pat-down search. Under the guise of this search, Quantz twisted the skin on Taylor’s arms and legs, struck him on the sides, hit him in the testicles, and slammed him against the side of the patrol car. Later, in the jail elevator, Quantz hit Taylor in the kidneys with his fist.” Tyler had his charges dropped after signing a legal document promising not to sue the county, and thus was not a member in the subsequent lawsuit.
- “John Davis and his fifteen year-old nephew, Wayne Broughton, were driving a loaded hay wagon drawn by a team of four horses on the afternoon of July 28, 1985. Because some cars were slowed behind the wagon, Deputy Jack Gardner came alongside the wagon in his patrol vehicle and, using his loudspeaker, ordered Davis to pull over. Davis lost control over the horses, who had been frightened by the noise of the loudspeaker. Gardner pulled in front of the wagon, took out his gun, pointed it at Davis and Broughton and threatened to shoot if they did not stop. As Davis got down from the wagon to attend to his horses, Gardner beat him on the legs with his nightstick and struck him on the head. He then knocked him down to the ground and continued to beat him. After Deputies Pete Cribben and Garry Ohlde arrived at the scene, all three hit him, kicked him, and shocked him with an electric stun gun. According to one witness, Davis “looked like he had been dipped in a bucket of blood” after the officers finished beating him.”
- Davis was arrested and charged with felony assault, resisting arrest and obstructing an officer. The misdemeanor charges were dismissed, and a jury, which found that Davis was acting in self-defense, acquitted him of the felony charge.
- “When Deputy Ray Sowers observed four young people talking between a car and a truck on the evening of March 15, 1986, he pulled over both vehicles. Sowers ordered Ed Rodius, a passenger in the truck, into the patrol car after he asked why they had been stopped. When Rodius refused to comply, Sowers jumped on Rodius, choked him, pulled on his hair, and then threw him to the ground and rubbed his face on the gravel of the parking lot.”
You may (much as I was) how the police force we have today came from these malicious and indiscriminate episodes of excessive force, luckily the case hinged on learning the same thing. I’ll spare you most of the legal arguments and logic; while I find it fascinating, I doubt most of you would. If you are interested, reference case the above.
Basically, the courts found that “the training that the deputies received was woefully inadequate, if it can be said to have existed at all. Sheriff Stairs himself never attended the State Training Academy and Undersheriff Harry “Bud” Hays had neither training nor experience. Although Washington law requires all police officers to complete academy training within fifteen months of hire, Deputy Sowers did not complete the academy until sixteen months after he was hired” and instead of having academy training, they actually had a “field training program” that was “a joke.” One of the deputies had only “minimal field training” and involvement in a “program in which teenagers with interest in law enforcement rode with officers.”
My parents moved to Mason County in 1990 after both myself and my sister were born and initially raised in Seattle. My first memories of the county and Shelton were of the years after these incidents, and from what I recall, it was spiraling downward. The forest industry was declining, and in many cases the county simply didn’t have the funding to pay for programs. But state mandated training for police officers? This was a program that simply couldn’t be skimped on—and the deputies paid for it with trial rewards levied against them.
I don’t really want to get into this anymore because I’m your eyes will glaze over and vow to never read anything I write ever again. I hope you found this interesting if nothing else; what I would really be interested in is locating either the officers or civilians involved in these incidents—that would be a fascinating project.